Getting Rid Of Bed Bugs: Steam Cleaning Techniques And More
Bed bugs are one of the most common parasites found
in a residence, and they're also the most annoying to dispatch. Whereas fleas
and roaches can be destroyed with flea medications and roach bombs, bed bugs
can linger despite your best efforts. In order to stop an infestation, you need
to understand what let them in, what's keeping them there, and what can be done
to dislodge them.
Bed Bug Basics
Bed bugs are tiny organisms that enjoy life in and around humans. They are parasites, meaning that they will literally feed off your blood. They are like fleas on a cat, except rather than being restricted to using cats or dogs as a host, they're using you. Because they are human parasites, bed bugs don't pick pet owners over non-pet owners; they go wherever they can find humans. Once they have found a hospitable environment where food is readily available, they become comfortable and start to multiply. Their size makes them almost impossible to detect by sight. In most cases, the only sign of trouble is itching and rashes. Victims will have bite bumps and visible symptoms that get worse over time. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you've almost certainly got bed bugs – fleas don't have the same power to impact humans.
How You Get Infested
Many people think that bed bugs are like mosquitoes, able to fly into your home spontaneously through an open door. Luckily, bed bugs cannot fly at all. They cannot take off nor can they stay airborne. Instead, bed bugs must find a carrier to transport them from a current environment to a new location. In order to bring bed bugs into your home, something inside your home must have spent time somewhere that had bed bugs.
Unfortunately, "some time" can be just a
few minutes. Bed bugs can infest remarkably quickly. One common source of a
problem comes from travelers who stay at a hotel that has a bed bug problem.
The bugs stow away in their luggage and on their clothes, leading the travelers
to unknowingly bring a big problem back home in their luggage. Used furniture
is another source of concern. If the furniture has been in a home or apartment
that was infested, it will almost certainly have live bugs on it that will need
to be dealt with lest those pests enter your home. The bugs don't even need a
large item like furniture or luggage to make the trip from one residence to
another. If you visit a friend who has a bed bug problem, the bugs may jump
onto your clothing, travel home, and infest your residence as well. Once in a
home, they multiply quickly, infesting even the largest spaces within a few
Anatomy Of An Infestation
Once inside your home, bed bugs will immediately move for your bed. They typically feed when humans are asleep, making a bed the ideal place for them to reside. In most cases, the highest concentration of bed bugs will be found within 15 feet of the bed, although couches, chairs, and other commonly used spaces may also be chosen. One important thing to remember about bed bugs is that the insects themselves may be impossible to spot, even if you're watching for them very carefully. You can patrol the area around your bed, but you won't find them there. They tend to hide between the mattress and the box spring, coming out only to feed. They are interestingly shaped in a way that allows them to slip in the smallest cracks: they have an almost paper-thin body, which can be wedged into spaces that seem impassible to the human eye. In addition to the bed itself, they'll often move into the area between the baseboard and the wall, or possibly even into the area behind a light switch. They will prefer places which are secluded and dark, but beyond that they are not picky.
The best indicator of an infestation is the presence of itchy rashes and bite marks on your body. It's rare to actually see a bed bug, even if you think you have a problem and decide to go looking. In some cases, they may leave dark feces spots on the sheets, but that isn't guaranteed. Extreme cases may also have the bed bugs emitting a distinct odor, a musty sweetness that is quite distinctive, but may become normal to the resident with time. If you're uncertain about whether you have an infestation, it is often better to proceed with treatment rather than delaying. As you'll see, there are inexpensive and non-chemical options for dealing with bed bugs that can actually benefit your home as a whole, whether or not you've actually got a problem.
Option #1: Economical And Environmentally Friendly Steam Cleaning
The most common method of handling a bed bug
infestation is a simple one. Steam cleaning has been a
known method to sanitize, sterilize, and kill insects for hundreds of years. Bed
bugs have one very notable weakness: extreme heat. Any hand held steamer that
reaches temperatures beyond 120 degrees Fahrenheit will instantly kill any bugs
that its steam touches. While other options may allow you to remove the adult
bugs or stop the larvae from hatching, only steam cleaning at 120 degrees
Fahrenheit provides a total solution for adults, young, and eggs. In addition,
a low-moisture handheld steamer reduces the risk of mold and offers other
potential health benefits. When used properly, handheld steamers kill dust
mites, fleas, and other common household pests and hazards.
Steam Cleaning Tips
When using a hand held steam cleaner to remove a bed bug infestation, you should always pick the largest head attachment that your unit can offer. If you choose a small head, you'll simply blow the parasites away without giving the unit enough time to remove them, making your job more difficult in the long run. With a large head, you blast the bugs with the vapors, ensuring that they are dead and the area around them is sanitized. In addition, you have enough room for the dead bugs to be removed, leaving you with a clean, pleasant area again. Be sure that you are very thorough with the steam cleaning. Remember to clean well beyond the bed area, and go over the entire house just to make sure you've gotten every last bug. Even a single bed bug can multiply fast enough to start the whole infestation over again.
Professional Commercial Eradication With Chemicals
In some cases, a severe infestation may just be too much for anyone to handle on their own. When you reach that point, it's probably best to move into a hotel temporarily and let a professional company handle the eradication of your pests. The company will likely use some pretty noxious chemicals, so it's best that you aren't around while they are being sprayed. Be sure that any pets also have a temporary new home, and be wary of the process if you or your loved ones have allergies or breathing problems. Chemical based eradication is usually very thorough, and may be a multi-step process to address the larva, eggs, and mature adult bed bugs. Multiple applications of the chemicals may be required in severe situations.
Whatever You Do, Don't Try To Vacuum
One of the most common misconceptions about bed bugs is that they can be removed or in any way controlled using a vacuum. This is completely false. In fact, using a vacuum tends to make an infestation worse because it can spread. Unlike a handheld steam cleaner, a vacuum won't kill the bed bugs. Instead, it ends up collecting them, alive, inside its bag. No vacuum offers a completely airtight seal from the bag to the outside, allowing the bed bugs to find their way out as soon as they get hungry. If you store your vacuum in a different room that was not previously infested, you've given them a free ride to a new source of food. Vacuuming bed bugs is never a good idea.
How To Prevent A Re-infestation
After you've fixed the bed bug problem, you'll be understandably eager to avoid it in the future. One of the best ways to do this is by simply using your hand held steamer on a regular basis. Steaming has a number of health benefits, and prevents many harmful pests apart from its effect on bed bugs. Bring out the steamer once a month or so and go over your entire living space in a fair amount of detail. Do that, and you can be confident that your home is still secure.
Beyond that, simply be careful about where you stay whenever you're traveling. Check reviews of all hotels to ensure that no one has had problems with bed bugs before. Don't stay with friends or relatives that have had a problem in the past. If you're in doubt, ask before you go; it may be a bit awkward, but it's better than having to deal with an unexpected infestation in your home. Finally, keeping your own home clean and in good repair will help reduce the hiding spots for these annoying pests. Minimize cracks that might be a good hiding spot, keep everything clean, and you're doing all that you can to prevent having bed bugs in your home ever again.
- Bed Bugs Are Making A Comeback In Hotels
An interesting article written for the traveler. If you are planning to stay in a hotel, no matter how nice it may seem, you should check this article before you go. It explores why bed bugs are making a comeback, and helps you learn to avoid them.
- Bed Bugs
A slightly technical but very helpful overview of bed bugs, their life cycle, and tips for management. Also available in Spanish.
- Prevention And Control Of Bed Bugs In Residences
Written by a professor from the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology, this guide goes into deep detail about the bugs. A great read for anyone who really wants to understand their adversaries.
- Don't Lose Sleep Over Bed Bugs
A no-nonsense guide to the medical aspects of infestation and treatment. Also helpful if you're considering insecticide because of its detailed discussions of the associated health risks from the pesticide.
- America's Worst Bed Bug-Infested Cities
You're not guaranteed to come home with an infestation if you visit here, but be aware of the citied on this list. Bed bug outbreaks are increasing, and being wary is always a good idea.
- The University of Kentucky Entomology: Bed Bugs
perhaps a bit technical for some readers, but an invaluable resource for anyone in Kentucky who has an infestation. Also gives readers an idea of what kinds of government assistance there is with bed bug infestations.
- The Bedbug Registry
This free webpage tracks and reports bed bug infestations in the US and Canada. All its data is user driven. Use it as a resource to pre-screen a hotel before you travel, and report places that you find infested.
- The Mayo Clinic: Bedbugs
The nation's leading medical clinic gives its advice on dealing with these common pests. A well-organized page with lots of specific information about managing and treating an infestation.
- MedicineNet.com Bed Bugs
This article is written by two doctors who are experts on bed bug infestations. They answer a number of questions from a professional point of view. In addition, there are many helpful slideshows, a quiz, and a patient-driven discussion.
This website is a great resource for anyone dealing with a bed bug infestation. It offers a wide variety of information, from treating bed bug bites to getting rid of them and avoiding re-infection.